Seriously ill woman in legal battle with HSE over medical records
Health service 'doing all it can' to respond to legal cases
The HSE has been accused of failing to release medical records to a woman who, according to her solicitor, is dying from cervical cancer.
The woman, who cannot be identified, has sought her files on three occasions in the past four weeks - but did not even receive a response from the HSE.
On Friday last, she issued High Court proceedings and is expected to ask the court to speed up the release of her records.
Her solicitor, Cian O'Carroll, has accused the HSE of "obstructing" the woman from having her case investigated "while she is alive".
It can also be revealed that only 10 medical files have been released so far, even though requests have been made on behalf of 46 cervical cancer victims by O'Carroll's office.
The HSE told the Sunday Independent yesterday that it has received a lot of enquiries from women since early May in relation to their records. It acknowledged "some delays" in responding to solicitors' correspondence due to the volume of requests but said it was making every effort "to meet its obligations in relation to time constraints".
However, in stinging correspondence, seen by the Sunday Independent, Mr O'Carroll has accused the screening service of a "continued refusal" to release medical records.
"You are aware that [the woman] is dying and has very little time left to live yet these crucial records are being withheld from her," the correspondence says.
"It was only last month that this information was shared with her and she was told that she had two under-reported smear tests causing a delay in the diagnosis and treatment of her cervical cancer. She has a right to investigate these serious issues and the non-disclosure from CervicalCheck is obstructing her from doing so when she is alive."
Mr O'Carroll, who acted for Vicky Phelan, the terminally ill mother of two who brought the cervical cancer debacle to light, acts for a number of clients who are impacted by the scandal.
The Government promised that a redress scheme would allow women impacted by the scandal to avoid the stress of being "dragged through the courts".
The correspondence seen by the Sunday Independent shows that Mr O'Carroll has repeatedly complained about the delays in releasing women's medical files.
In a letter dated May 28, Mr O'Carroll wrote to the National Screening Service that he was informed by CervicalCheck that it sends patient files for "legal review" before releasing them.
Mr O'Carroll wrote: "You must stop delaying the release of these records, from vetting them prior to any release."
He also accused the National Screening Service of omitting material from some files, an allegation that was vehemently denied by its head, Damien McCallion.
It is believed Mr O'Carroll was referring to another terminally ill woman, Emma Mhic Mhathuna, who was informed by CervicalCheck that two of her screenings were incorrectly read.
It was only when her legal team received records from a US laboratory, that she learned an earlier smear test carried out in 2010 was also audited and found to have been significantly under-reported. CervicalCheck released the files after the matter was raised in court.
The National Screening Service, which oversees CervicalCheck, rejected Mr O'Carroll's criticisms, according to correspondence.
Damien McCallion, head of the service, replied to Mr O'Carroll that the service is dealing with requests as quickly as possible and in accordance with data protection legislation, and prioritising patients identified as having received adverse diagnoses.
In a statement last night, the HSE said:"There has been significant demand for records; we have put in place a team led by an experienced manager with the necessary legal supports to ensure that records are provided within the timescale required to those women requiring records."
Declining to comment on individual cases, it acknowledged "some delays in the earlier weeks in responding to solicitors' correspondence due to the volume of correspondence received, however, we have managed to provide records thus far in all instances for urgent cases where time is a critically important factor for the woman concerned."
It continued: "We are committed to ensuring that files are released in a timely manner and every effort is being made to ensure that those affected are dealt with appropriately and with compassion."
The cancer screening programme has been criticised by other families impacted by the failures in the service for delays in releasing their files.
Stephen Teap, who lost his wife Irene to cervical cancer, said last week he still did not know where the smear tests were carried out and was still waiting for a copy of her slides.
Vicky Phelan (43) settled a High Court action against a US laboratory that was contracted by CervicalCheck, the cervical screening programme, for €2.5m, without admission of liability.
Documents she obtained in her legal action revealed that she was one of 15 women with cervical cancer who were not told that their original smear tests were incorrectly read. Her disclosures triggered a massive investigation by the HSE, which has so far found that 209 women who were audited by CervicalCheck after they were diagnosed with cancer whose tests "could have provided a different outcome.
Eighteen of those women have died.